Our Burden’s Odor
“It is said that a newly made vessel will preserve for a long time, perhaps permanently, the odor of whatever was poured into it at that time. This can also be said about the atmosphere surrounding children.” St. Theophan the Recluse from The Path to Salvation.
I read this quote from Saint Theophan when my wife was pregnant with our oldest son Isaac. I remember a dark, invisible force crushing me into the ground as I read. All my sins and shortcomings came rushing upon me. A dirty metallic taste filled my mouth. It was a virus, swelling my tongue and throat. I choked on the thought that Isaac would be born into a world draped with my stains. O Lord, what burdens would my son be receiving because of me?
Doing The Right Thing
Driving with my wife shortly thereafter I pondered to her, “You know, the hardest thing in the world is just being good, doing the right thing. If we can teach Isaac to do that, we did well.” She stoically nodded in agreement. No doubt, she had been bearing the responsibility of impending motherhood while reflecting on her own shortcomings to be conquered.
Well, how do you teach “be good, do the right thing”? By doing the right thing of course. Or at least trying, and being honest with yourself when you fall short. And you will fall short. Often. Your greatest tool in overcoming these stumbles will be forgiveness, one of the most powerful tools for life that we possess. Forgiveness includes ourselves, otherwise we let regret consume us.
The Complicity of Parenting
Eighteen years and eight more children later (yes, you read that correctly, we have a total of nine children) my fears have been realized. My anger, my pride, my sloth, and my many other faults can be seen in their faces as they grow and learn to be human. Sometimes there are brief glimpses, other times it is deep rooted behaviors that my wife and I struggle to correct and extract out of them. The hardest part, accepting our complicity in their stumbles.
Yes, they make choices, we all do. In fact, one lesson all children must be taught is that we are not hostage to our circumstances. We use all our experiences, good and bad, as fuel to move forward and make decisions that exercise our freedom of will. We teach this lesson with action. Regardless of how old you are or what life has thrown your way, you can make a decision to use all of that experience as a foundation for moving forward. Tell a child to move forward while you are static, you will have no credibility. At best they will ignore you and at worst they will despise you.
When You Fail, Keep Aiming High
For you young or expectant parents, do not be afraid to set lofty goals for your children. To fly, you must aim high. Make your home a place of safety from the world and a vessel that allows your children to look upward toward the eternal. Eighteen years after the birth of Isaac, our family prays together every morning. We eat most meals together. We worship together, we sit around and ask the tough questions on life and faith. It can be done, and it is worth the effort. Even when you fail and question whether you have done enough.
I’ll ease to the finish with another quote from St. Theophan:
“But the chief form of moral perfection which belongs to one who has preserved himself whole in the years of youth is a certain unshakeability in virtue for his whole life.”
The greatest gift we can give our children is the moral character to enter the world unshakeable. Aim high parents, Aim high.